#Baggott: PSNI should *no longer* be accountable

Matt Baggott is pretty much leaving the PSNI in the same way as he joined in 2009. At that time, he was being pressed by the Coroner John Leckey to release files on shoot-to-kill cases from 1982 so that inquests could be held. His predecessor, Hugh Orde had been ignoring a similar request since 2007. At the time, the PSNI released a statement saying:

The PSNI wishes to re-emphasise its willingness to co-operate fully with the coroner and continues to proceed as expeditiously as possible with a comprehensive disclosure exercise that involves a thorough evaluation of any risks to national security and consideration of human rights issues.

Last month, the coroner made his latest plea to have the files released. In an almost unprecedented attack, he pointed out that:

  • It should be viewed as an “enormous source of embarrassment to the state that these inquests have not been held”.
  • The PSNI’s attitude to disclosing sensitive material to inquests is “driving up costs”.
  • The senior coroner is “deeply frustrated” that, despite making a request three years ago, his office has yet to be provided with its own expert investigator to assist with cases.
  • Mr Leckey warns that if the European Court of Human Rights imposes sanctions for continued delays in holding inquests he will not allow the coroner’s office to be blamed.

Yesterday, Sinn Féin MLA Gerry Kelly issued a statement condemning the policy of obstructing inquests, adding that Coroner had written to the Secretary of State three weeks ago and she had, so far, ignored the letter.  Leckey had given Baggot six weeks to hand the file over when he took up the post in August 2009. He still hasn’t done so and it is two hundred and fifty four weeks later.

Today, as he prepared to leave his role as PSNI Chief Constable, he told the BBC that there was a:

…need to separate the past from the present. I think how ever that is done, the PSNI should no longer be accountable [my emphasis] for dealing with issues that pre-date the Good Friday Agreement. We have to create a situation where police resources are focused on the here and now, without taking away from the needs of justice or victims.

If one thing has become even clearer in Baggott’s 254 weeks in charge, the PSNI (like the RUC) is and never was held accountable. On the very same day as this statement was issued, a Police Ombudsman report has been published on the killing of an RUC Sergeant Joseph Campbell by loyalist paramilitaries and/or RUC men finds heavily against the RUC. It identifies a failure to investigate the death, including involvement of loyalist paramilitaries, that information had been withheld by the RUC on a threat to Campbell’s life, and,  that documents had not been disclosed or destroyed by the RUC or PSNI (the Ombudsman fudges this point on who is responsible).

Despite the grand aspirations of 2009, Baggott’s tenure is limping out largely as it began. The continued failures to consistently and equitably engage over issues like the RUC’s shoot-to-kill policy (as mentioned above), McGurks Bar, Ballymurphy and Claudy, never mind complete avoidance of the abject failings exposed in Lethal Allies, put significant context on pleas that the PSNI should no longer investigate pre-1998 issues. Alongside the comments by the Attorney General in 2013 that were recently re-hashed by the Secretary of State, there is at least some consistency in Baggott’s attitude. Clearly, not only does the British government, through its various channels, not wish for any form of meaningful scrutiny of the past where the state’s own forces and proxies were involved, it will actively (and pretty much overtly) obstruct attempts to do so. Collectively, this is a continued refusal of the right to an effective remedy (a breach of Article 13 of the European Convention on Human Rights).

So Matt Baggott is just the latest in a long line of RUC and PSNI Chief Constables who won’t be missed.

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  • Morpheus

    I agree John, my confidence in fair and equitable policing has been somewhat rocked under Baggot’s tenure.

    The involvement of Robin “The Jackal” Jackson in the murder of Sergeant Joseph Campbell is particularly alarming.

  • Joe_Hoggs

    Regarding the 2013 PSNI recruitment drive, I am aware of people who have made it through to the medical assessments but have been waiting on dates for several months yet the new recruitment drive has began.

    What a mess and who is being held accountable?

  • cynic2

    “The continued failures to consistently and equitably engage over issues like the RUC’s shoot-to-kill policy ”

    ….with balanced analysis like that is it any wonder?

    And heard Nuala O Loan on today. She like Baggott now wants a new Ombudsman for the past to investigate all the past murders. Its to have all the powers of the police but not be the police so it doesn’t need to be accountable to anyone except the law’

    Now forgive me, but just how much confidence does the public or victims have in this proposal? And will its ‘targets’ be the murderers or the police officers who tried to catch them?

    Will it be able and willing to arrest the likes of ‘how dare they’ Gerry?

    Will it investigate the collusion between the NIO and SF to pervert the course of justice by giving suspects OTR letters or Pardons? As John Reid said this week, they weren’t secret though, they just didnt tell anyone they were doing it

    Still I suppose we have to do something to employ all those redundant lawyers

  • John Ó Néill

    cyncic2 – feel free to show where the analysis isn’t balanced?

    The quote is preceded by the Coroners comments on the PSNI failures to engage with the inquests. It is followed by links to a sample of other issues where the PSNI (under Baggott) fail to engage.

    It would be helpful if you actually take one and show where that is an incorrect assessment of the PSNI’s performance.

  • Mick Fealty

    I’m glad that true order has been restored on Slugger, and that I have reverted to writing posts that no one comments on.

    A quick question though: who on the Policing Board actually held Matt to account?

  • Im afraid its all done and dusted.
    The PSNI have hardly been enthusiastic about investigating cases.
    The Ombudsman cant get anywhere if PSNI refuses to hand over information.
    The OTR letters have been issued.
    Peter Hain, among others thinks its time we “moved on”.
    For years the victims have been given Promises. Then Lip Service.
    Now they dont even need to be mentioned.

    But the sight of The British Queen, Robinson and McGuinness really says it all.
    Robinson has sold out unionist victims.
    McGuinness has done the same with nationalist victims.
    The British State the same.

    It may well be justified on the basis of something called the Peace Process. Less easy to justify in keeping DUP-SF in Office.
    For thats really what it comes down to.
    The Past has been buried…alive.

  • Son of Strongbow

    It must take a neck made of the perfect amalgam of zinc and copper to reference a Sinn Fein statement about the alleged failure to enthusiastically seek the truth of the past.

    Is Commandant Marty’s omertà (citing IRA ‘honour’, yes honour I s@it you not) at the Saville Inquiry, or the rubbished ‘evidence’ brought to the Smithwick Tribunal so easily forgotten?

    For the same source to complain about alleged police inaction surrounding the murder of an RUC officer beggars belief. Are we to surmise that nationalist terrorists would not have sought to murder the officer should an opportunity have been presented?

    Again rank hypocrisy personified.

    No what we have here, again, is a partisan view of the past. The security forces are the only ones in the sights and the group responsible for most of the violence of the past are on board with trying to keep that focus exactly where it is.

  • cynic2

    “the group responsible for most of the violence of the past are on board with trying to keep that focus exactly where it is.”

    …when not climbing on land-rovers to stop the arrest of the wrong kind of rioters!

  • Reader

    Matt Baggott: the PSNI should no longer be accountable for dealing with issues that pre-date the Good Friday Agreement
    In spite of the usual comprehension errors (above), it looks like Baggott may actually be on to something.
    If the PSNI pass on the old case documentation to some 3rd party, along with the responsibility for data protection, national security, human rights etc., then Shinners could stop sniping at the PSNI, ex-Special Branch greybeards and dark forces. Meanwhile coroners would be trying to get data from actual legal experts instead of a sequence of Assistant Chief Constables with pasts and/or loyalties. And the PSNI could be getting on with their actual job.
    Win/win/win. (unless the Shinners *want* to have something to complain about)

  • John Ó Néill

    Mick, I think Baggott has become a case study in the ineffectiveness of the policing structures. The PSNI consistently delayed giving responses to the Board on questions and there was a perception that Baggott had been a compromise selection but had little understanding of the political dynamics (Joanne Murphy deals with this in her book on Policing for Peace in Northern Ireland). The Ombudsman has had to pursue him through the courts and Baggott has consistently ignored the Coroner throughout his tenure.

    Reader – do you really think Baggott is proposing that an external body be brought in to conduct the investigations? The obvious response to that is that the PSNI have been arresting and questioning republicans and loyalists over pre-1998 issues. They still refuse any engagement with investigation of state killings or those carried out by proxies of the security forces.

  • Reader

    John Ó Néill : Reader – do you really think Baggott is proposing that an external body be brought in to conduct the investigations?
    There’s already at least one external body with that task. I hope Matt Baggott is talking about having records body that works with the HET, Coroners, etc. so that the PSNI doesn’t have to shuffle through 50 years worth of sensitive paperwork every time Columbo goes “oh yes, one more thing…”.

  • iluvni

    Is he away yet?

  • Mick Fealty

    If there’s fault here it lies a priori with the village idiots who booked Baggott, not the man himself. It was clear from long before the appointment what kind of CC we were getting.

    The appointment was by the Board, but as in almost every other regard our politicians ran for cover almost as soon as the brown stuff hit the proverbial fan.

    Alex Maskey for instance was happy to commend him as the CC. If it comes down to personnel, then Maskey and his other politician friends on the Board at the time of the appointment are to blame.

    As for the idea that Baggott is dodging accountability, I think you’re quotation only works as two words extracted from the sentence. There’s a touch of the West End or Broadway theatre poster about it.

    That said, he’s only talking in the same broad terms the Attorney General about the way the criminal justice system is being clagged up with cases from the past (blog coming on that soon).

    Have you seen the clear up rates for rape in the years after 2006 in Belfast? We don’t need another arrangement for that, we just need the political will to move on.

    Besides it’s only weeks since SF was muttering darkly into its corporate soup, about what might happen (like, I dunno, they’d win more elections) after their President was arrested as a murder suspect.

    It may not be popular to say it, but no one in Northern Ireland does accountability as well as the cops. Certainly not the DUP and definitely not SF with a backlog of 1800 murders to account for.

    If we are agreed we want a CC who is tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime, then look no further than the Policing Board if we don’t get one.

    In other words, look for ‘the fix’ and you will discover who is treating the rest of us as the village idiots.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “no one in Northern Ireland does accountability as well as the cops”

    You honestly think that is true. In Omagh they have been up to all sorts and only go caught out as the Pubs put their neck on the line handed over their footage to the Solicitor Patrick Fahy.

    In Belfast you can put as many illegal tires on your Bonfire.

    In the last year a number of cases involving alleged late night public disorder incidents have been thrown out of the Magistrates Court after the District Judge deemed that defendants had no case to answer. In one case District Judge Bernie Kelly described evidence from police witnesses as a “foray into a fairytale” and in a separate hearing when exonerating two teenagers, described officer’s testimony as “tainted”. In three cases, five men and a woman were exonerated when CCTV evidence appeared to contradict the evidence given to the court by police officers. In another incident a man and his partner were also exonerated when the judge deemed that police had entered their home illegally. – See more at: http://ulsterherald.com/2014/06/03/bbc-spotlight-investigation-to-examine-policing-in-omagh/#sthash.UhOGwbam.dpuf

  • Delphin

    As long as the plain people of Northern Ireland vote DUP/SF we are stuck with the current dysfunctional administration. A perfect illustration of this mindset set can be found on the 350+ thread where some consider tribal points scoring a successful debate.

  • Son of Strongbow

    You’re on the money there Mr F.

    The Board jumped at Baggott as a ‘community policing’ orientated CC. Board members, with Sinn Fein very much to the fore, bigger-up his CV in this regard.

    They hoped for a pussycat who would not be upsetting anyone with that oul effective policing nonsense.

    It was all seemingly going so well, nicely uniformed ‘bobbies on the beat’ and prettily painted police cars floating about doing PR policing.

    Then the ‘nasty’ streak began to show through; or in other words going after alleged crims, remember the good old days of Shinner pickets outside Police HQ? (A ‘republican’ can’t be a criminal after all) Even outrageously more recently lying hands on the Dear Leader, for a ‘mere’ alleged murder!

    And then the flag protests kicked off and Baggott, true to his community policing antecedents, went for containment rather than a more robust ‘cracking skulls’ approach.

    Following the baying for what would once have been shouted down by the Shinners as “heavy-handed policing” by those self-same Shinners is it any wonder that Baggott intimated his distain of local politicos?

    Despite his (alleged) love of the Ulster Fry I’m sure he’ll be more than happy to recross the water to go back home. No doubt true to his Biblical beliefs kicking the NI sand from his sandals as he leaves.

  • Mick Fealty


    I’m not saying they are above reproach. Just that some of those charged with overseeing them are hiding a great deal more.

  • John Ó Néill

    Nothing says cabaret like: “It may not be popular to say it, but no one in Northern Ireland does accountability as well as the cops.”

    Most of the links flatly contradict that. I don’t see how the PSNI’s poor performance in prosecuting sexual violence since 2006 explains the policing failures of the decades before that, or the specifics of why inquests from 1982 were never held (for instance).

    Bottom line is policing has not been resolved.

  • Mc Slaggart


    “Just that some of those charged with overseeing them are hiding a great deal more.”

    The PSNI as you say are not hiding their incompetence. If only they could have some sort of plan to deal with the issue of illegal bonfires.!

    Around 8,000 officers including 3,600 drafted in from other UK forces, policed the event amid fears it could be targeted by dissidents, or mobbed by protestors.

    Two special detention facilities were set up in Belfast and Fermanagh, and 16 judges were on stand-by for all day court sittings.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well it needed a bit of drama I thought. Eamon McCann wrote a good piece on journalism going blind on the case of the Guildford four and the Birmingham six.

    If you spend all your time encouraging people to seek justice over crimes that happened 40 years ago and as a consequence you block up the criminal justice system (which is effectively what the AG is complaining about) then I think is perfectly reasonable to ask who is watching the cops over what they’re doing to close down crime in the here and now.

    My reading of Baggotts remarks is that this politicking around the past healing is creating an onerous burden on police resources in the present.

    I mention the poor performance on reported rape because I’ve seen FOIed figures showing some appalling outcomes. Where is the row? The public debate, the fury, the anger? The news items even?

    There isnt one. As Newton Emerson has noted, Baggott can run rings around that policing board because they are not interested in scrutinising what the police do within the offices of PBNI.

  • Roy Walsh

    I’m sure we all recall 2009and the appointment of the great ‘community policing’ Chief constable. Community policing has, if anything, disimproved throughout the six counties.
    Equally, the rather unrealistic outlook of creating a new oversight body to deal with the previous actions/inaction of the police force, at a time when the Justice Department are failing in a legal duty to fund inquests because, they say, they have insufficient resources, is unlikely to run.
    How much support would David Cameron enjoy were he to return to the taxpayers of Britain and say, we need £X, millions more for Ireland because we killed many people there and failed to fulfil our duty to them in properly investigating these murders? I doubt he’d gain support with such request.

  • Delphin

    On the other hand Roy, SF with a backlog of 1800 murders to account for, go from strength to strength. The record keeping, command and control and accountability of the IRA isn’t a patch of the forces of the British Crown, so it is likely that most of their victims will never see justice.

  • Roy Walsh

    Dolphin, allegations against Republican’s, going back decades are being pursued by the police service, and no, it is unlikely there exist records, in other than parol form, relating to killings or other actions by IRA, INLA, UVF, UDA exist, the state though have a duty, to you and I as taxpayer’s, to maintain records, enabling us to see just how our money is spent.
    The point is, the likes of former combatant, Sammy Brush, have seen the person who attacked him convicted and his sentence served, at the same time families of person’s killed by state forces, have been denied justice, even Senior Coroner Leckey, not known for his Republican views in any way, is frustrated in carrying out his job by the failing of the Justice Department to provide funding, in light of which, how might the minister of Justice (although the ECHR might see him as minister of injustice) provide money to provide what the former chief constable calls for?
    Further, we have c. 7500 officers to police the c. 1.5 million persons in the six counties, na Gardai, protecting the people in the rest of the country c. 6.5 million have only 11,500 officers, and their community work is vastly superior, in my direct experience, to that of the police service here.
    Finally, SF were at all times a legal organisation and were not responsible for the murder of anyone therefore have no account to make for 1800 dead.